A desire to serve

Katherine Munson, already dedicated to serve, finds dedication bolstered following events of Sept. 11

 

November 6, 2019

Photo courtesy Katherine Munson

Katherine Munson shortly after enlisting in the Air Force.

Before Katherine Munson graduated from Saratoga High School in 2001, she had a scholarship opportunity in Nebraska. After talking with a friend from Rawlins who had joined the Air Force, however, her plans changed.

"She came back and was telling me how awesome it was and then she's like 'Honestly, the pride of serving my country is something you can't replace' and I was like, 'Yeah, I want that. I want to serve my country,'" said Munson.

Munson's family, on both sides, have a number of members who have served their country. Her paternal grandfather served in the Korean War and her uncle served in Vietnam. On her mom's side, all her uncles served in Vietnam.

"My mom's side is full. Like, all my uncles served in Vietnam and, actually, one of my great-uncles was a POW (Prisoner of War) in World War II," Munson said. "So, I was like, 'Why wouldn't I want to be a part of that?'"

Despite graduating in 2001, Munson didn't enlist until December of that year. Between graduation and her enlistment date, the events of September 11 took place and the United States was beginning to enter the Middle East. That didn't sway her decision to join the Air Force, but rather solidified it.


"Everyone was like 'Oh, you're chickening out now, aren't you?' and I was like, 'No, I'm going.' I thought there could be a war. When you serve, it's a possibility," said Munson.

Against the advice of her recruiter, Munson entered the Air Force as open general.

"Pick a job. I got really lucky; I went open general and my recruiter even told me not to do that and I just landed intel because of circumstances and, with the war coming on, they needed intel people," Munson said.

Munson was sent to Texas for technical school and was given orders to report to Fort Mead, Maryland. There, she worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) in a nightwatch office. Her job, and that of those she served with, was to be the eyes for the Director of the NSA. 

"It was a really important watch office and then, when I was done with that time, I decided I wanted to become a permanent deployer," said Munson.

Still being new to her post, the first deployment Munson had was to Tampa, Florida which she refers to as her hardship deployment. Following the deployment in Florida, Munson was offered one in Afghanistan and jumped at the chance.

"I was still working for NSA and we (were a) 24 hour shop. So, half the time I was there I was on nights, half the time I was on days. Which, nights there are basically days here, so it was not as hard of an adjustment," Munson said.

Munson spent six months in Afghanistan working intel. One of the things that she remembers from her time there was when she first arrived in the country. As her unit was traveling from one base to another, they became stuck in a traffic jam. While the unit was looking for a way out, Munson remember two young girls outside the vehicle.

"They started crying, banging on the doors and, as an American, your first instinct is to help these children, but obviously, in Afghanistan, they could have bombs, they could be the decoy that gets us killed," said Munson. "I looked back and I just go, 'Oh my gosh, that's just the saddest thing I've ever seen' and one of the guys turns around and says, 'That's why we're here.'"

Also during her time in Afghanistan, Munson was lead on an operation that saw three people get hurt. When she went down to the base they operated out of, the commanding officer called her into his office.

"He said 'I want to thank you because, without you, we would have lost people and we would have had a lot more injuries. You saved every guy on that operation and I appreciate you,'" Munson said. "That is something you can't replace. That was just the coolest thing that anyone has ever said to me."

Shortly after she returned to the United States, Munson was awarded Airman of the Quarter. She didn't return to Afghanistan and, after only four years in the Air Force, she chose not to reenlist.

"The reason why I didn't reenlist ... is my mom had gotten sick. At the time, I didn't know that the military does hardship. They'll get you closer to home and everyone I knew was getting orders to Korea and I was so afraid that I would get sent to Korea and something would happen with my mom. So, that's why I didn't reenlist," said Munson. "Hindsight's 20/20; I'd almost be retired now."

When she left the Air Force, she had achieved the rank of E-4 or Senior Airman.

Munson is very proud of her time in the Air Force and she advises anyone who enlists to have a decision made on their military occupation specialty code (MOS). Additionally, those who like to serve and like the tradition or prestige of the military should look into serving in the base Honor Guard.

"Base Honor Guard gets you right in the middle of it and it's a really cool experience," Munson said. "You could be doing retirement ceremonies for the tech sergeant down the street. I was actually pretty lucky because I was stationed near D.C., I got to go to a Wizards game and carry the colors."

While carrying the colors, Munson was feet away from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin.

"I was like 'Oh, I'm a small-town Wyoming girl, this is amazing,'" said Munson.

Since deciding not to reenlist, Munson has returned to the Valley that she called home, is married and has a young daughter. She serves her country in a different way now as she works at the Encampment Post Office. Working for the post office allows her to buy back her military time and use it towards retirement.

It's been nearly 18 years since Munson enlisted and the United States still has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Munson, if someone had told her back then that the country would still be there, she wouldn't have believed it.

"I didn't forsee it, at the time, going for as long. If you would have told my 18-year-old self that we'd still be there, now, I would have been like, 'No, there's no way,'" Munson said. "It's a tough situation. What do you do? You just can't completely pull out and leave the people and all the work that we've put into it, but it's kind of like, when do you say when? It's hard."

 

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